27 February, 2006

The new guy

On Saturday evening, I met Liz and Julian and Marc for dinner. Marc seems really nice and easy-going and reminds me ever so slightly of my friend Jake Young. After dinner, Liz and I decided to take what is becoming our usual Saturday night trek downtown and were pleased when Marc agreed to join us. We kept him out way later than I though we would, but he joined in our activities with gusto despite his jetlag.

This afternoon Liz and I met Marc and Bryce for a walk to the beach--my first visit. It's several miles away, but it was a beautiful day. The wind picked up the nearer we drew to the water, and by the time we got there, it was a roaring gale. We briefly checked out the beach then sought refuge in a restaurant where we had lunch. The vote was unanimous to take a taxi home.

23 February, 2006

How in the world do these things happen?

Kevin and Marcus who are both in my morning kinder class and my two o'clock class consistantly out-perform the rest of the kids, so I've taken to keeping extra worksheets on hand to keep them busy while the other kids slog through the intitial work. Kevin in particular loves writing, and I have several pages of alphabet writing practice just for him. He'll fly through one then beg, 'One more! One more!' It's great.

Anyway, this morning I was browsing through some materials in the staff room, and I found a book of beginning cursive. I thought, 'Kevin'll love this' and copied the first two pages for him. Sure enough, during my two o'clock, as everyone else was deep in a cutting and pasting project, Kevin had finished and was waving at me, yelling 'Work, work!' Mentally patting myself on the back for having thought ahead, I gave him the cursive worksheets. He dug right in. A few minutes later, Marcus, who will usually settle for a dot-to-dot or a regular alphabet sheet as extra work, was asking for a cursive work sheet. I was annoyed that I hadn't considered Marcus might like it too but decided that it would be no problem to quickly run another copy--I often slip out of the room for this or that while the kids are working.

I was gone less than a minute.

When I returned, my room looked like a crime scene being reenacted by Korean children on cheesy television. Kids were standing on chairs and pointing and yelling, I think. But my eyes first went to the floor where I saw a suspect pair of scissors lying on top of a medium dusting of paper snow. When I raised my eyes, I saw Katie holding Nicole's hands as though she were helping a wounded soldier, and Nicole's face wore a look that could have won a victim of the year award (I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that she herself had played a large role in her own distress; she is quite possibly one of the most evilly sneaky girls I have ever met). When Katie saw me, she removed her hands along with a blood soaked tissue. 'Dear God,' I though to myself, 'Nicole's severed a finger.' Shaking myself out the bad TV show and remembering that I was in charge, I hastened to inspect the damage. What I found was a relatively small cut that had simply produced alot of blood. FORTUNATELY. I don't think I would have relished rushing to the kitchen to pack a detached finger on ice. Luckily, I have been outfitted for such occasions--I had her slathered with ointment and bandaged and coloring again in no time.

Forget teaching, I should be an EMT.

Some favorite pictures

Yes folks, Billy is wearing real fur

Rachel, my little one

Julian's son Jack


My crazy morning kinder kids--this picture cracks me up

Chad and Harry at sunset wishing I would go away

Philip giving me wolf teeth

20 February, 2006

Park English gathering in Seoul

Friday night after work, Liz and I headed out armed with coats, purses and a piece of paper that said something like ‘Taxi driver, please take these girls to the express bus station!’ I'm not really sure why it needed to be an exclamation, but it got us there. We found the express bus window, purchased tickets, and had a bite to eat at Lotteria—Korea’s contribution to the fast food world—while we waited for our departure time.

We nearly missed the bus, although I didn’t realize how close we had cut it (not my fault!) until I sat down and looked at the digital clock in the front of the bus: 7:29 for a 7:30 departure, and they don’t mess around. We pulled out at exactly 7:30. Two hours and forty-five minutes later, we arrived at Gangnam Station in Seoul. We got Niki from Park English on the phone, got in a taxi, and gave the phone to the driver. When he pulled over and motioned for us to get out a few minutes later, we crossed our fingers that our convoluted method of communicating had not failed us. We scoured the signs up and down the street for the name of the restaurant, and, not finding it, called Niki again who pointed us in the right direction. Only one wrong turn later and we were there!

There was no mistaking our party by the large horde of foreigners. Since I’d never actually met Niki, though, I hung back uncertainly for a moment looking for a likely suspect. Then I heard ‘Margie!’ and it was Niki jumping up to hug me as though we were long lost friends. We hit it off instantly. I also finally got to meet Cessilia Park of Park English, a gorgeous young woman of 25. Niki, if you’re wondering, is the lovely girl responsible for getting me to Korea. We spent a good deal of time talking on the phone and emailing each other, so it really did feel like we were already good friends.

We stayed there long enough for me to make the rounds and start a few conversations (everyone else had already been there for quite awhile), but then, in good Korean tradition, it was off to the next place. Everyone voted, and, as majority rules, a place called Polly’s Kettle House became our next destination. It was loud, dark, and smoky. As if I really expected anything else. I managed to talk to a few more people a little more in depth even though it meant yelling at full volume. This went on for quite awhile. It turns out that my sweater/shirt combo was a big hit—it got me three email addresses, and my nice teeth got me an email address AND a phone number. Too bad they didn’t get mine *evil laugh*. To be fair, though, all the guys I met were very nice.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Niki and Liz and I headed out, and Niki got me and Liz a hotel room that was basically big enough for a double bed and a little walking space. We crashed immediately, and when the phone rang for check-out time, I remember wondering why they had such an early check-out time (it felt no later than 7am). Turns out that it was 11am! We splashed the sleep out of our eyes and headed out to try to find out just where we were. We found a map of Itaewon
in a little gift shop, so we figured that’s where we were. Itaewon is a section of Seoul known for its high concentration of foreigners, and indeed, we saw a lot of us. After a little window shopping and a quick brunch, we grabbed a taxi and once again produced the paper with the request for the driver to get us to the express bus station. Miraculously we found the right ticket window for our city and boarded our bus. First trip to Seoul—a complete success!

Here’s what’s up for this week: finding the post office, figuring out the ATM, continuing my quest for cheese. Oh yeah, new guy arrives on Friday.

Picture 1: A guy I didn't meet, Cessilia, Hera (in front), Sean (in the back), me, Niki, Steve, Damon's profile
Picture 2: Damon, Hera (barely), Niki, Sean, Cessilia, Liz (not sure what the pose is about)
Picture 3: Hera, Chris, me, Sean, Cessilia

16 February, 2006

The good news is that I'm not dead.

All other news is, well, mere details, I tell you. But at the risk of incurring the wrath of several faithful readers of my blog should I not touch on said details, read on.

Saturday Night:
Liz and I meet Morven and Tania--a girl freshly returned to Gangneung following a two month visit to Canada--downtown for dinner. We eat samgyeopsal, a bacon-style barbequed pork dipped in bean powder and eaten with the ubiquitous lettuce leaf. I enjoy a variation eaten with a large, thinly sliced raddish round.

From there we go to the jazz place where Taylor and his Korean girlfriend join us.

From there we go to Bumpin where I meet Michael, Carlos, Bryce, and Ivan (Aussie, Brit, Yank, Aussie).

From there we go to Wherehouse where there is a dance party. I agree to go because I love dancing so much. Uh-huh. Quickly tiring of bad music and an even worse sound system (I've been in cars with more powerful systems), we go back to Bumpin.

From there, most of the aforementioned people go to noraebang (karaoke). But they don't just go, they go on a four-wheeler. An all-terrain-vehicle. All of them. On the streets of downtown Gangneung. Now, I like having a good time as much as the next person, and despite being fairly socially conservative, I can hold my own when I go out. However, I don't have 'I am stupid' written on my forehead, and at this particular juncture, getting on the four-wheeler seems like something only people with 'I am stupid' written on their foreheads do. Ivan agrees with me, and we follow on foot as I want to make sure Liz doesn't die on my watch. When I confirm that Liz is safely singing with the others, I leave her to her own devices and catch a taxi home.

Sunday Night:
Ivan calls and we go out for gamjatang with another teacher, an older guy who calls himself R. Bob, and his Korean wife (I know I keep saying Korean this person and Korean that person as if their names aren't worth mentioning, but the fact is that I just can't remember Korean words. The only reason I can write the names of the food I've eaten is that I describe what I've eaten to Julian, and she writes it out for me). Gamjatang is a spicy stew with potatoes and pork back--literally chunks of the spine eaten like ribs. Mrs. R. Bob orders mild, for me, I think, though she claims to not care for spicy food herself (food is usually eaten from a communal pot). By the bottom of my second bowl, my face is beet red, my eyes are watering, and I'm gasping involuntarily. And R. Bob is telling his wife 'You could have at least got medium, honey...'

I don't remember Monday, so it must have been okay.

Tuesday, Valentine's Day:
I have to deal with above average crying. Several of the incidents involve chocolate, several others involve extra naughty children being sent to the hallway to be dealt with by Julian. Julian lets us read the new guy's resume, and we discover that he's from Seattle--I like him already.

Katie 'falls' into Kevin's knee and bloodies her nose, Kevin's pants, her hands, my hands, my coat and my jeans. Terry gets his foot stuck through one of the chair slats nearly necessitating the jaws of life. I finally get paid. Yes, this is all worth it.

This weekend I will be venturing to Seoul for a party to meet all the people who went through my recruiting agency. Cross your fingers that there aren't any ATVs.

11 February, 2006

Here's what's going through my mind tonight:

  • My dinner would have been so much better with CHEESE:

Dear Korea,

‘Kraft Singles’ does not qualify as cheese. Please write to Europe for
some suggestions.

Love, Margie

  • I can finally sleep with sheets on my bed
  • My niece/nephew kicking my sister—Yeah, get her good!
  • I need to visit England again just so I can go the the supermarket and ask for a shopping trolley (and sing the Hokey Tokey)
  • My voltage coverter makes a good foot-warmer (hmmm...I wonder if it should really be that warm...)
  • I am so going to sleep until I wake up naturally tomorrow

Harry and Karas

As you know if you faithfully read my blog, Harry and Karas are two of my advanced students. This post features their art. They like drawing pictures of each other. It all started one day when Harry drew a picture of Karas on my whacking stick. You can't tell from the picture, but it says something about her having diabetes. (Unrelated note about the stick: Julian encourages use of the stick. We're not necessarily supposed to hit children, but whipping the stick down in front of children with a loud 'thwack' is looked upon favorably. There are five or six of them floating around downstairs, and I think Joseph has at least three of them.) A couple of days later, Karas rendered her versions of Harry on the board, and now it has turned into a 'thing'. I think they secretly love each other. Today being Friday, I let them have some fun, and not only did they draw each other, they drew 'hentai saru' or 'nuclear monkey' in Japanese which is what Karas calls Joseph because 'he is mean and ugly'. Oh the drama.

For Emily

Here, now 'Funny Things' isn't on top. :)

09 February, 2006

Funny Things

I like collecting funny English--I did this in Japan too, but here I've started photo-archiving the strange things I find. I got 'Vitakato' off my shopping bag and 'Omnibus' from a department store bag. I think the toilet one is self-explanatory. The bag with the happy young men (members of a famous pop group) is from the Korean version of KFC, so it essentially says 'Better-being with greasy, greasy chicken.'

06 February, 2006

First night out

I had heard rumors of other foreigners in Gangneung but had not seen hide nor hair of any such foreigners until last night. Joseph keeps mostly to himself and hangs out with his Korean girlfriend, and since I didn't have a predecessor, I have had to rely on Liz's knowledge of the foreign crowd, passed on to her by her predecessor Anita. Liz, however, did not hit it off too well with Anita's friends, and I feared that her inability to get along with people had isolated me. Fortunately Morven, an English girl, gave her another chance, inviting both of us out for dinner last night.

We met at the McDonald's downtown and were joined by some teachers from Seoul who had come over for the skiing, a couple of guys from Gangneung, and a Korean guy and girl. To my relief, the McDonald's was simply a meeting place (apparently they didn't mind the small host of mi-gook loitering in the corner) and we proceeded to overwhelm a small dakgalbi restaurant with our throng and feasted for an inordinate amount of time on something similar to what I had with Joseph last week.

Picture: Clockwise: Liz sticking out her tongue, Chris and Darren from Seoul, Min-Jhong, Morven

Then it was off to a jazz club--translation: small
restaurant with recorded jazz playing and wall decor of ancient horns and album covers. We spent too long there for my taste as well, partially because I wasn't too keen on the snacks. I've run into these several places, and they're just not right. They look like crinkle-cut fries, but they have the texture of a Cheeto, and they're 'shrimp' flavored. I can't think of anything worse.

Pictures: Morven and I; Morven, Niki, Min-Jhong, Darren

Last stop--Bumpin. When our crowd arrived, there were already fifteen or so foreigners crammed in the long narrow room, and we brought it to about twenty-five. I managed to meet a few new people, no thanks to the impossibly loud music and all the other people yelling to be heard above it. I finally found a free seat, and the Korean guy--he told me to call him Niki--with our group struck up a conversation with me. It was quite comical, really, with his marginal English skills, my lack of understanding for all words Korean, and the truly 'Bumpin' music. He would say something, I would say 'What?', and he would shout it again directly into my ear. Then I would reply, he would frown and lean forward, and I'd shout it again directly into his ear. I don't think we really knew what the other was saying, but we managed to have a fairly lengthy conversation in this fashion. As a testament to the fact that I genuinely did not understand all that was being said, I somehow ended up in his debt. Another guy explained to me that since Niki had done me a favor (huh?), I now owed him something--nothing big, just something silly. I asked what I should do, and he replied that I should let him teach me how to snowboard at Yongpyeong where he is an instructor. I considered this and came up with three reasons it was a good idea: one, I've been wanting to go snowboarding but have had no good contacts or resources to do so (it doesn't get any better than a 50% employee discount); two, Yongpyeong is a world-class facility, narrowly missing out on hosting the 2010 Olympics; and three, I wouldn't mind seeing the look on this guy's face when I give him a run for his money... So I agreed, and thus ended my first night out in Gangneung. Now if Niki and I can actually say enough of the right words to each other to make the plans, I'll have another great story to relate.

Pictures: Taylor and Gene from Gangneung; the bathroom at Bumpin.

04 February, 2006

By the way...

I forgot to mention that I went back to Dr. Neurosurgeon Thursday morning for another round of torture. Julian or his wife must have have told him that I had called my previous treatment 'acupuncture' because as he stabbed me with the needles (twice as many as before), he asserted deprecatingly, 'This is not oriental acupuncture. This is intra-muscular-stimulation.' Riiiight.

My floor creaks eerily at night. I am only aware of it if I am up late enough (as I am right now), because that's when it finally starts heating up. It goes off at 8:30-ish every morning, runs on auto all day, and comes back on at 10:42 every night. The daytime 'auto' setting is somehow directly related to where I set it at night, but I have been completely nonplussed by the whole setup and have taken to leaving it on '45', whatever that means. Forty-five Celsius would be hot enough to induce heat stroke, yet forty-five Farenheit is cold enough (for me) to get hypothermia. I just don't get it. I've been sitting here in my coat all night (see pics from previous post), but when I wake up, I'll be sweating and I'll have a stuffy nose from the heat. And then it'll cool down slowly all day until I want to put my coat on again.

I should sleep.

Fun with the camera

I bought myself a new camera for Christmas--a Pentax Optio S55--and I've loved everything about it so far. Having nothing else to do tonight, I broke it out and had some fun experimenting with the saturation and different filters and such.

03 February, 2006

A little bit of everything from this last week

It’s been (quite) a week since I’ve put anything real on here, so I’d better get to it before I forget to say all the important things I’ve wanted to say that seem to grow less and less important as each day passes. Thanks to all who wished me well (and prayed for me) during that awful sickness over the weekend. Needless to say, I didn’t expire.

The beginning of last week was difficult. I think I reached the ‘sink or swim’ point in this whole thing, and by Tuesday (it was only Tuesday!) night, I wanted to tie a rock around my waist to help speed the sinking right along. It must have been obvious because Julian asked me on Wednesday morning if I slept well. ‘Why, no, in fact, I didn’t, thanks for noticing…’ I passed most of it off on the fact that I have back issues (but didn’t complain about my rock hard bed, not wanting to appear ungrateful), and even went as far as hand-writing out a note explaining about chiropractors and such (we’ve found that in matters of importance, when being understood actually matters, we should always write a note). Later in the day she told me ‘Good news (everything is always ‘good news’)! Jason’s father is a specialist, and his mother will take you to the office tomorrow.’ I probed a little in order to assign some more defining terminology to the broad practice of ‘specialist’ but got none and left it at that.

By Thursday, things were going better with the kids, and that afternoon Jason’s mom came to whisk me off to her husband, the ‘specialist’. When we got in the car, she said, ‘Yes, my husband is a neurosurgeon, and he specializes in your kind of back problems.’ Say what? You lost me at the part where you said neurosurgeon. Maybe my note wasn’t very clear after all…but the car was already moving. The office was downtown, a neat little modern office on the second floor of a large building housing a variety of businesses. I had my blood pressure taken in the waiting room and within five minutes was taken in to speak with the supreme specialist. He asked me some cursory questions, poked and pushed on my spine while I laid on a table, and announced that I probably needed surgery. Hmm, is there a polite way of telling an intelligent, learned, foreign doctor that you think he’s full of it? I decided there wasn’t, so, to humor him, I agreed to let him x-ray me. As if I haven’t done this before. When he looked at the films, he let me know that I didn’t need surgery. Hmm, is there a polite way of telling an intelligent, learned, foreign doctor ‘I told you so’? And then came his next recommendation—analgesics and muscle relaxers. *sigh* If mere pain was my problem, I could play my own neurosurgeon and prescribe a couple of Tylenol for myself. Let's get to the problem! Dr. Neurosurgeon didn’t understand why I didn’t want medication but had another suggestion ready—IMS: intra-muscular-stimulation. ‘It’s from America,’ he said, but I think he really meant, ‘If you can’t even agree to THIS, then get out of my office, you know-it-all American!’ It was the best suggestion yet, so I said okay even though I wasn’t quite sure what I was agreeing to. I was taken to the next room over and told to lie face down on the table in one of the curtained-off sections. Dr. came in a few minutes later, felt around on my back, and proceeded to stick needles in the tightest muscles. The nurse then hooked electricity to each needle, cranked it up, and aimed a heat lamp over me. It was five minutes of electrically-induced muscle-cramping. I was then taken across the hall to a lab-type room where I laid on an almost unbearably hot heat pad. And that was it. I’m not sure how I felt. Different. Not better, not worse—just different.

That night, Joseph and I went out to dinner as I still want to explore more facets of Korean cuisine. We had (spelled phonetically) dwae-jee-gal-bee—a big pile of meat and vegetables cooked in front of us in our table and eaten with a lettuce leaf and raw garlic and onion. It was delicious. Side note: I’ve picked up on the fact that Liz and Joseph don’t like each other very much which makes it awkward if I want to hang out with either one of them. Liz simply thinks Joseph is crazy, and Joseph thinks Liz is humorless and stoic. They are mostly just indifferent to each other, but one day they nearly came to blows in the staff room over a point of teaching phonics. I sincerely hope the new guy likes Liz, and likewise, or this is going to be a long year.

I’m not supposed to do a lot of real heavy duty academic stuff with my kinder class to begin with, but on Fridays we really relax and have fun. Last Friday, we played quite a few rounds of ‘ring around the rosy,’ each escalating in fervor, the last of which ended in James being unearthed, crying, from a heap of screaming miscreants. In my post-kinder class, I was feeling especially lax and let what started as innocent drawing and coloring turn into an all-out marker frenzy. I don’t know what possessed me to let Marcus and Joshua do it, but one marker became two became four then ten, and I got caught up in the fun. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a good photo-op. After school Julian ordered ‘Chinese’ food, and we had a meeting to plan for festival and graduation at the end of the month. My class is not participating as it’s a new class, but I’m helping and have been, of course, roped into playing the piano for several acts. It’s a big deal every year, and I’m looking forward to it.

Artists at work: the early stage

'Two handfuls of markers with no lids...what in the world am I going to do?'

Marcus, working so furiously my camera can't keep up.

The Masterpiece

Saturday Liz and I had haircut appointments down the street at Oh Ji Yeuhn Hair. Liz went first, and I grew sleepy as the proprietor cut and cut and thinned and whacked away at Liz’s amazingly thick mane of hair. Then they washed it and attacked it with two blow dryers. My turn was similar. Spritz with water bottle, cut, wash, blow dry. All in all a very serviceable haircut. And for less than eight dollars, too. Next time I might go into Seoul for an experience more like my friend Rebekah’s in Italy (see Jake and Rebekah link), but it’ll do just fine for an emergency cut. After our cuts, we walked up to the store to pick up a few things for the weekend. On our way home, I commented on having a bit of a thick throat. Within the hour, I was on my floor shivering through four layers of long underwear and sweaters topped with a coat. I tried to distract myself with logic puzzles and a movie, but as the fever got worse, so did my focus. At 9:30pm I tried calling Julian who didn’t answer. Lacking medicine and both Liz’s and Joseph’s phone numbers, I decided, in a partial state of delirium, to bundle myself up and walk to Liz’s (we all live within a block of each other). I must have been quite a sight in my flannel pajama pants and my snowboarding coat and gloves. When I got into the street and saw that Liz’s lights weren’t on, I thought I’d try Joseph even though I’d never been to his apartment, and at that point I wasn’t even sure which building was his. I knew it was one of two, so I picked the most likely and knocked lightly on a likely door. I didn’t get an answer and didn’t try anymore doors. My leg muscles completely cramped on the stairs, so I sat there for little while and moaned until I figured out that I could go down sideways and not hurt as much. I limped home and sat on the floor and moaned some more and longed for the 24-hour Walgreens of my recent past. So overcome with fever, and (somewhat melodramatically) afraid that my throat would swell shut if I went to sleep, I went BACK out, this time disregarding Liz’s extinguished lights. She wasn’t looking so hot herself but was able to give me two blessed Tylenol for the fever. I finally fell into a fitful sleep, and sometime in the early morning hours I grew warm enough to shed a few of my layers.

(Sidenote: this weekend was the lunar or Chinese New Year, a very big holiday in asian cultures)

I woke Sunday morning to Julian calling to ask why I had called her the night before. Ugh. An hour later I woke again, this time to my doorbell, and it was my landlord looking very dapper in a shirt and tie and sweater vest. He mimed eating and pointed upstairs, and I deduced that he was inviting me to eat with his family for the holiday. All but dead, not to mention still wearing an odd assortment of clothing, I apologetically mimed back having a fever and a swollen throat, but thank you. I was sorry I didn't feel better--I would have enjoyed the experience. About ten minutes later, he came back with a tray bearing a small platter of cut fruit, some extra un-cut apples, and some puffed rice treats. I was more than grateful, and somehow the fact that he brought me food made me feel less guilty about not going uptairs. Later that night my landlady brought down a plate of special bread. These people rank right up there with Sherie, mom.

I had Monday off for the holiday--fortunately--and spent the day sleeping and reading and ridding myself of the last clinging wisps of sickness.